How To Use Social Media Like The Best SMB Marketers

tree-200795_640The online marketing world is expanding – having the biggest bullhorn isn’t enough to dominate the conversation anymore. Instead, the most interesting voice prevails in attracting an engaged audience. Social media provides a low-cost, attainable channel for small business marketers to take advantage of in order to compete with the big brands in the content marketing sphere.
The Small Business Content Marketing Trends & Insights Report for 2013 found that SMB marketers use an average of five social media platforms, while enterprise peers use an average of four platforms. Many small business marketers have been early adopters in the social media game, leveraging this effective business and marketing tool in order to extend their reach. Social media has provided SMBs a level playing field to reach audiences and attract interest through focusing on content. By using an average of five platforms, SMBs are ensuring that their content isn’t caged into one insular group, lending more opportunity for it to spread to engaged audiences.
When managing social media channels, it is important to set a goal for your content. What do you want to achieve from with each post? Lead generation? Thought leadership? Brand awareness? Define your goal, adapt your writing and choose the social channel that will reach the right audience at the right time.
Creating content is the most labor-intensive task when executing a content strategy. Social media in particular burns up a lot of content quickly due to the quick pace of content published per minute. In order to stay top of mind (and top of news feed), repurposing content is key. It is important to keep in mind that “repurposing” and “reposting” mean two different things. While “reposting” allows a piece of content to appear on a news feed more often to increase impressions (that may not lead to consumption), “repurposing” adds a new value with a fresh perspective that can generate new appeal for new audiences. Schedule different posts to varying social networks of your repurposed content using social media management dashboards like Tweetdeck, HootSuite, and Sprout Social.
Before creating content, small business marketers should be aware of the types of content that draw in their most engaged target audience. Know who you are writing for, which channel they’d like to be reached through, and how they like their information represented. Written posts are great, but multimedia content can often be better. Get creative and produce an infographic, 6-second Vine, or podcast to allow your audience to consume your content in different ways.As social media begins to take a larger role in the content strategy of small businesses, blogs still remain the most important social media channel, supported by others. SMBs now have access to thousands of people they were unable to reach before, sharing their voice, experience, and what they can offer.

How Headline Length Impacts Engagement

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We can all agree that a well-crafted headline is one of the most critical ingredients for success in content marketing. This can make the task of headline writing seem rather daunting at times, especially since what constitutes a “well-crafted headline” is still an enigma to many.

Fortunately, click-through data has the power to eliminate a lot of the guesswork and provide us with actionable insights for headline optimization.

Of course, there are several aspects of headline writing that click-through data can inform, but today we’re going to focus in on headline length. There is a tremendous range of headline lengths for digital content and little consensus on what works best.

Taking a look at all of the paid links that were added to Outbrain’s network on Wednesday, July 10th, the number of words in the headlines range from 1 to 23, averaging around 7.

To better understand how headline length impacts engagement, we first analyzed 8 months worth of click through data on over 100,000 English headlines for paid links that ran in Outbrain’s network.

We found that moderate length performs best, with engagement declining as headlines approach either the shorter or longer end of the spectrum. As you can see in the graph below, headlines with 60-100 characters earn the highest click-through rates and these rates decline as headlines decrease below 60 characters or increase beyond 100 characters.

English Characters

When measuring headline length by the number of words, rather than characters, we found the same pattern of results. The highest click-through rates were again achieved at moderate headline lengths, with 16-18 word headlines performing better than headlines of any other word length. By understanding how title length effects CTR, you can generate more traffic to your content.

English Words

While our results showed us that moderate length drives the most engagement with English headlines, the question remained whether this would hold true for headlines in other languages. So, we pulled a sample of over 100,000 French, Spanish and Italian headlines for paid links that ran in Outbrain’s network over the past 4 months to see how the effect of headline length varies across languages.

 

It turns out the relationship between headline length and engagement among French and Italian titles is very similar to what we found among English headlines.

Just like English headlines, French headlines perform best when they are between 60 and 100 characters. Italian titles have a slightly larger range of optimal performance, with 40– 100 character headlines reaching the highest click through rates.

Italian French Characters

Spanish headlines, on the other hand, continue to perform better and better as their length increases. The longest Spanish headlines (101 – 120 characters) generated the most engagement.

Spanish Characters

When measuring headline length by the number of words, we found the same pattern of results. French and Italian headlines again perform best when their word count is within a moderate range.  The optimal number of words is slightly greater (13 – 15) for French titles than for Italian titles (7 – 12), though.

Italian French Words

For Spanish headlines, engagement increases as the number of words in the headline increases, with the longest headlines (19 – 21 words) performing best.

Spanish Words

It’s interesting to see how optimal headline lengths differ between languages. Surely there are other variables that interact with headline length. For example, content category – do longer headlines perform better on entertainment content than on sports content? Be sure to check back for more research going deeper into headline length and covering the impact of other headline attributes on engagement.

Protecting the ‘Content’ In ‘Sponsored Content’

3In his column today, NPR’s Bob Garfield suggests that publishers are only shooting themselves in the foot with sponsored content. Why? In their haste to make a buck, even the most prestigious media companies are throwing up spammy third-party links on their pages and labeling them “sponsored content,” when in fact they should be labeled as anything but content. The more publishers dirty their hands and sully their brands with this form of sponsored content, the more audiences lose faith in them. Bob’s right. Ads and otherwise devious marketing camouflaged as editorial make the publisher look bad and is in no way a sustainable business. But not all sponsored content is guilty of this crime, and merely changing the label on the sketchy stuff to something more descriptive wouldn’t solve the perception — and long-term economic — problem for publishers. Getting rid of those suspect links and advertorials altogether would be a more significant step in the right direction. Authentic, interesting content is the only scalable way to create trust with users. Sponsored content does not have to be synonymous with advertorials, or clever, duplicitous product pitches embedded within a fake piece of journalism. At Outbrain, we promote great content on behalf of brands every day – sometimes penned by the brand itself, often by their publishing partners. No sales pitches, no outrageous claims. Just interesting, engaging, entertaining content. Brands like American Express, Red Bull and L’Oreal have produced credible hubs of content that educate or delight consumers as much as other publisher sites. It seems unfair to group them with the advertisers who churn out product-hawking advertorial. Maintaining authenticity is not easy, as there are huge budgets fueling the businesses behind selling continuous subscriptions – and leveraging content discovery tactics to do so. We ran afoul of this issue last year, in which direct marketers masquerading as content marketers were leveraging the trusted real estate of Outbrain’s content modules to peddle their products. Rather than disclose these offers as “sponsored,” continuity offers should not even be allowed to run in content recommendation modules, because, well, they simply are not content. They are click-bait ads trying to pile enough users into the top of their conversion funnel. We made a proactive decision to cull this black hat content marketing from our index, which was right for users and the long-term sustainability of our offering. Many Outbrain clones feature these ads heavily in their recommendations, pursuing the easy money, short-term thinking approach. We have built our business on trust – with users and publishers. This trust has allowed us to be the leader in content discovery, driving the best combination of revenue and user engagement. It is our position that users will begin to ignore content recommendations if the standards are not kept high, just as they largely ignore disruptive, sales-y banner ads today. Disclosure is great. Authenticity is better.

How Do You Like Your Content? Depends On The Device You’re Using (Infographic)

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In the fragmented, multi-screen world, content is one of the few points of convergence for the everyday consumer. From search to social to popular news and entertainment sites, content weaves its way so seamlessly into our lives it’s easy to underestimate just how much of it we take in on a daily basis.

For example, have you ever noticed to just how much time you spend clicking from article to article or video to video in the evenings when suddenly you realize it’s way past your bedtime? ? If the answer’s no, that makes us feel pretty good about our jobs.

Our hope is that enabling personalized discovery makes it that much easier to get lost in the expanding world of great content, from more traditional publisher like online newspapers, to newer niche publishers growing in influence.

As we continue down this path of enabling interesting discoveries online, we thought it would be fun to take a look at how some of these content consumption patterns vary across our network, depending on what, when, and which devices people use when they click on an Outbrain link.

Get ready for the Battle of Devices!

 

5 Tips on Taking Charge of Your Earned Media

auto-revised2Conventional wisdom dictates that earned media, by its very nature, is beyond or at least subject to very little of a brand’s control — in fact that’s what makes it credible. While consumers are increasingly willing to engage with branded content they find useful or entertaining, there’s no substitute for credible, third-party opinions, especially when it comes to making a smart purchase.

Traditionally, earned media has been defined as favorable publicity along editorial lines, but with the advent of social media, “publicity” took on an evolved meaning. Publicity now constitutes visibility on social channels due to user promotion via “Likes,” Tweets,” “Shares,” etc. The resulting ecosystem includes a host of venerable influences, both online and off, that affect consumer perception, a nice way of saying brands have to contend with even more variables out of their control.

But is all earned media created equal? No, and in fact learning how to weigh its value is an important task.

In the tech and automotive verticals, for example, the more authoritative the source, the more influence with the consumer, suggesting that the editorial version of earned media may be more valuable than the social variety for those brands.

According to a survey last year, 85% of tech consumers said articles, reviews, blog, and videos by experts were the most influential online media when considering a tech purchase. That’s a marked contrast from the 70% who said Facebook and other social media outlets are not strong influences on their decisions to buy tech products.

 

Top Influences on Tech Buyers

 Forbes, September 2012

 

Similarly, the top online influencers among automotive buyers are professional third-party sites.

Top Influences on Automotive Buyers

 
Auto Shopper Behavior Study, Google/Compete 2011

 

Still, even for the most finely-tuned PR machine, leveraging this kind of positive editorial beyond the initial hit has historically been a challenge. In the not-too-distant past, an influential third-party could lend you some credibility with a positive review, feature story or flattering mention, and all you could really do was be grateful (assuming you were aware of the coverage) and do some quick math on who might have seen it based on the circulation of the publisher. Maybe e-mail it around to some key folks and hope they pass it along. Other than that, the story was destined to fade into the ether almost as soon as it arrived.

In the age of content marketing, that’s no longer the case. Now brands can exact some measure of control over this new publicity paradigm — at least over how many people receive the  message and how long it remains relevant to them.

Here’s how.

1. Monitor It… Constantly

Set up a mechanism for rounding up your earned media daily. Setting Google Alerts for your brand and monitoring Twitter for relevant earned media are simple exercises that yield helpful results. For the latter, search Twitter periodically for “BRAND filter:links,” and use TweetDeck to constantly monitor tweets that include your brand name and a link.

2. Prioritize It

A big-name newspaper or magazine can boost your standing with audiences, but don’t forget the other crucial components of an earned media strategy — generating more earned media and, if it’s among your goals, driving traffic back to your site. Which stories actually link back to your site? What are the stories your audience is more likely to share on social networks? If you have no idea, think like a consumer and be honest with yourself. Would I be compelled to share this with my friends and/or contacts?

3. Amplify It

Earned media is the best proxy we have for oral storytelling in digital; once the story’s been told, it can be passed on to other audiences in ways organic (viral) and assisted (paid).

Let your goals be your guide and use all the tools and channels at your disposal. Outbrain’s solution to increasing the circulation and duration of a story is placing it in front of engaged audiences already browsing content on some of the most high-traffic areas of the web – premium publisher sites. Many of our clients use it to promote their positive press to larger audiences and extend the shelf life of their media coverage.

4. Measure It

With your KPIs in place, you can go a long way in taking the guess-work out of the effectiveness of your earned media strategy with a few simple measurements, like:

→ Article views — While most publishers have visible social sharing counters on article pages, some, like Forbes, also have page view counters.

→ Social sharing — LinkTally is a great tool for tracking total shares across the four major social networks of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus.

→ Incoming site traffic from the earned media publication.

5. Respond To It

One of the undervalued aspects of earned media is that the parties producing it have different ideas than you do — not just about the nature of your brand or product but about the landscape of the market, your competitors, etc.

For this very reason, earned media can be a great springboard for owned media. If a third-party highlights a problem, misconception, or even a positive asset related to your business that you had never considered before, use it as an opportunity to set the story straight with your owned content or through another media outlet.

Don’t Tell me What to do!: The Consequence of Pushy Content Headlines

9.17.Pushy_.Headline.Engagement6An analysis of engagement on paid content headlines in our network has revealed an interesting trend among consumers. It seems that the harder they are pushed to click, the more likely they are to avoid a headline altogether.

We investigated some commonly used words that could easily be perceived by readers as overly pushy, sales pitchy and, at worst, spammy. The chart below illustrates the negative effect of headlines that directly address the reader or make use of demands.

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Titles that make references to the reader by including the word, “you,” “your,” or “you’re” performed 21% worse than titles that did not contain any of these words. The attempt to make readers feel as though they’re being spoken to directly appears to do more harm than good.

Titles containing an imperative (“must” or “need”) generated a 20% lower CTR than titles that did not contain either of these words. Readers appear to be resistant to words that demand action or attention. It may be that these words are more reminiscent of advertorial calls to action than editorial language or that their overuse in headlines over time has weakened their ability to convey a true sense of urgency.

As much as we want to drive readers to our content, it’s important to remember not to push them too much. The risk of having your content headline sound like a call to action is not only likely to end in lost clicks, but also likely to jeopardize audience trust. The headline should mirror the quality of the content that lies behind it.

This analysis was based on a sample of over 100,000 paid links that ran in Outbrain’s network between April and November 2012.

Combating the Content Overload

5387024837_6fe4f8981b_zI recently came across a piece on the future of content marketing in The Huffington Post that caught my eye. In it, Spencer Critchley argued:

“Although content marketing is still on the rise, it is already showing signs of becoming the victim of is own success…an advantage is no longer an advantage when it’s available to everyone.”

The argument being that the explosion of publishing activity on behalf of brands and the growth of content marketing is leading to an inevitable devaluation of content, the current rock star of digital.

While we’re certainly witnessing an increase in the sheer volume of content brands produce as they complete their transformation into publishers, that doesn’t mean the wholesale desensitization of audiences to branded content anytime soon. It just means the industry needs to get smarter in how it delivers the content.

Let’s use the example of dining out in New York City.  At any given time there are upwards of 20,000 restaurants throughout the city, with new ones added every week. Does that mean people are going to get tired of dining out? Making sense of the infinite amount of choices we have isn’t about halting new restaurants from opening or, in the case of content marketing, original content from being created – it’s about providing better filters to help consumers identify what they want, and to help them do it quickly.

When it comes to finding a restaurant, Yelp and Zagat serve up ratings so diners can make a confident selection. Pandora curates music we might like, Netflix recommends movies to watch, and a number of other content discovery platforms perform this essential service of curation  for consumers in readily digestible formats.

The problem, then, is not the volume of content produced and the seemingly endless inventory the Internet provides, but the quality of opportunities to readily find what we’re looking for.  This is where marketers can step up their games and build strategies that deliver on this promise for consumers, from exclusively creating or leasing content that is authentic, valuable, and actually pleasing to engage with, to ratcheting up their intelligence on how consumers interact on media platforms — essentially, which needs those media sites satisfy for users –  and plugging in content that complements or enhances that experience.

Advertorials rarely fit that description, and there’s been an influx “black hat” content that can make it difficult for consumers to tell the difference between a link to an engaging editorial experience and a link to a digital infomercial.  Confusion of this nature is arguably the bigger threat to content marketing, not over-saturation.

On the Search front, Google has made telling strides to identify and combat this confusion with changes to their algorithm and evolving their position on paid content.  As discovery tools and other content curators get smarter, the future of the industry should involve consumers clicking with utter confidence in the efficacy of the choices they’re presented.

To say that the future of content marketing is “no content” is like saying storytelling has an expiration date. I would agree with Mr. Critchley that less is in some respects more when it comes to content, but that doesn’t mean putting the brakes on content creation altogether.  Everybody wins when the storytellers — brands and publishers alike — place a premium on strategy and quality over quantity.

What’s Better Than Running a Super Bowl Ad? News That You’re Running a Super Bowl Ad

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Hyping the Hype Around Super Bowl Ads

Despite a $4 million price tag for a thirty-second spot and nearly three months until the big game, Fox’s Super Bowl inventory is expected to sell out by Thanksgiving.  Fox is even holding a social contest for brands feeling left out to submit proposed commercials for fan-voting, and the winner gets a coveted thirty-second spot during the 5 p.m. ET pregame programming.

The Super Bowl is pretty much the one time of year advertisers can bank on such a large captive audience (110 million viewers, by estimates), but still, is the spend really worth it?

According to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder it is – and it has nothing to do with the creative or how effective the ad is.

The researchers found that the mere news of running an ad during the Super Bowl is enough to move stock prices higher for advertisers. If stock prices can be used as a proxy for brand equity, the ads are working long before they even air.

So in addition to using digital outlets like social media, blogs, and YouTube to tease their Super Bowl ads in advance, perhaps brands should start hyping the news around their Super Bowl plans before a single second of creative is revealed…

For more on making the most of your press coverage, check out our 5 tips for promoting earned media.

 

3 Reasons Your Content May Be Doomed From the Start and What To Do About It

Are You Wasting Time on Content?

Before you create a single piece of content,  it might be headed for failure. Why? The world’s most interesting content does no one any good if it never finds an audience, which is why content distribution isn’t just half the battle, it is the battle. And a battle it is, for at least these three reasons.

Noise

With at least 2 million blog posts published and nearly 1 million hours of video uploaded to YouTube everyday, less is more for consumers who just want the good stuff at their fingertips. As we’ll see later, audiences spend the vast majority of time doing anything but seeking out brands online, which makes the common filters they use for navigating and discovering content that much more important for brands trying  to increase their visibility online.

Fragmentation

Attention spans aren’t so much short as they are split, with audiences scattering their activity across smartphones, tablets, connected TVs, and soon-to-be “wearables.” Responsive design, native apps, mobile-optimized content are all improvements to the mobile user experience once the audience gets through the door, but they don’t make the door any easier to find. Brands need platforms that enable discovery of their content across channel and device.

Intent

When you combine social networking activity with checking e-mail and browsing content, consumers spend the vast majority of their time online with no intent outside of waiting to be entertained or informed of something interesting. Your brand probably isn’t their priority.  But if you can enhance the reason they visit these platforms to begin with, you can become part of their regular discovery loop. The trick is cracking these platforms without interrupting them.

Planning For Discovery

Of the many filters audiences use for navigating content, including search engines and social networks, discovery platforms like Outbrain are becoming more ubiquitous — and thereby significant — for brands trying to reach audiences on any device at any time and at scale. How brands leverage these filters for their content is inextricable from how audiences use  them, requiring brands to solve for distribution and intent before they’ve spent a dime creating content.

Matching Content with Intent

Let’s say I’m a CPG brand and I want to engage my target audience with Thanksgiving-themed content. Assuming they celebrate Thanksgiving, use search engines, check Facebook, email, and media sites regularly (seemingly safe assumptions), my content scheme might look something like this.

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For each platform, I want to consider its main function for my audience (e.g. searching, discovering, etc) and how my content can fit that function for them — before I create it. My Facebook content, for example, will aim for an intimate extension of my brand that celebrates the holiday in an inherently social way because “sharing” what I’m thankful for isn’t just native to the platform, it’s authentic to the platform (there’s a difference).

The content I seed for discovery on media sites is going to be like a title in a bookstore — my audience isn’t necessarily looking for content about Thanksgiving, they’re just browsing, but as the holiday approaches, can I capture their curiosity with something interesting or irreverent about the holiday?

Looking at my scheme holistically, I now have a micro media mix that covers some of the most heavily-used information channels online, with some discernible overlap — like the recipe I want to optimize for search and distribute to my e-mail subscribers — for increasing the efficiency of my content before I’ve deployed a single resource to create it.

Content distribution isn’t so much divorced from content creation as it is integral to its planning and execution. They are means to the same end of strategically engaging audiences, reflexively informing each other in a cycle that might look something like this:

Distribution strategy → content creation → content distribution → measurement → distribution strategy revisited

Strategically releasing your content into the world is what allows you to gauge both its value to your audience and, by extension, to your brand. A limited view of distribution essentially robs you of the opportunity to learn as much as you can from audiences engaging with your content in multiple contexts — an opportunity your competition is almost certainly leveraging.

 

Why the App Store Isn’t Enough: Using Content to increase app Downloads

Competition in Google Play and Apple’s App Store is fiercer than ever. According to recent announcements from both companies, users now have over two million apps to choose from.

When it comes to releasing an app, you’re going to need to consider other methods outside of the App Store to make a splash and drive downloads. Though you may be releasing the ultimate can’t-live-without-it app, smart promotion through content is key to appealing to a larger community and ensuring your app doesn’t get lost in the noise.

Read on for tips to promote your app with content and increase app downloads without breaking the bank.

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First step: Create a microsite

Give your app a home on the web to share more information and create an online destination for users. This site should match the look and feel of your app, and will house all the content and backstory users may be interested in. Consumers and the media alike will enjoy being linked to a site as opposed to the App Store when seeking more information about your app.

Get To Blogging

If you haven’t done so already, create a company blog to further engage users and share the vision, personality and people behind your app(s). In the weeks before your app launch, start sharing the inspiration behind building the app, thoughts on relevant industry news and any interesting content that future fans of your blog may enjoy. Better yet, by using a content discovery platform like Outbrain, links to your blog will be placed alongside links found on the bottom of articles on premium publisher sites. Your engaging content will reach a wide audience, exposing your content and your app to readers you may have never reached.

Start increasing your app downloads right away!

App Reviews

While creating your own content is a valuable way to share your message, app reviews are a trusted third-party source that will add credibility to your offering. Research bloggers and reporters that cover app reviews in your space and pitch your app. There are also resources like Fiverr or Elance where you can hire bloggers to objectively review your app on their blogs. To create some buzz should you secure some awesome reviews.

Using video to increase app downloads

Video is the perfect medium to showcase everything your app has to offer. Creating a quirky, personalized video that highlights the functions and user experience is a great way to engage potential users and drive them to download the app for themselves. Your blog is the perfect home for this, and videos make great content to share widely without having to share a wordy explanation of your app’s functionality.

Word of Mouth Buzz

A full-throttle social media presence is imperative when engaging potential users, spreading the word of your app and easily sharing links to the App Store to drive downloads. By engaging with thought leaders and relevant audiences on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as well as sharing screenshots on Pinterest, you’ll be able to drive the buzz around your app that’s key in converting users. Take part in conversations and respond to user questions through social media to increase your presence.

Regardless of your app’s functionality and what audience you’re trying to reach – be it gamers, CEOs, tweens, musicians or moms – creating content to promote your app’s purpose is an inexpensive and easy way to reach new fans and eventually drive downloads needed to make it in the sink or swim app world.